A multi-method approach to investigating the relationship between attention and interpretation bias in young children.

Very little is known about the relationship between cognitive biases and anxiety in young children. This project uses eye-tracking and psychophysiology to begin to address this gap in the literature.

Department: Psychology

Supervised by: Dr Helen Dodd

The Placement Project

Anxious children show at least two types of cognitive bias: an attentional bias, where attention is disproportionately allocated to threatening stimuli, and an interpretation bias, which increases the likelihood of ambiguous stimuli being interpreted as threatening. To date, the relationship between these cognitive biases and anxiety in young children is unclear. This placement will form the first phase of a study that is being conducted by a research team in the school of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences. The aim of this first phase is to recruit, screen and collect data on 20 children and to investigate the relationship between both attention and interpretation bias and anxiety in these children. The study uses objective measures, including eye-tracking and psychophysiology to assess information processing biases in children aged 4-8 years. All of the tasks that will be used in the study are novel. The findings from this first phase will inform which tasks are used in the next stages of the project. The placement offers an exciting opportunity for a student to gain training in specific research skills as well as hands-on experience of the research process, including working with young participants. The placement will begin with the student learning about the background and rationale for the project and then receiving training in the use of equipment and the study protocol and procedures. The student will also learn about and assist with data cleaning and preparation of data for analysis.


The student’s main task will be to collect data using eyetracking and psychophysiology with four to eight year old children, with a view to collecting data on 20 participants during the 6-week placement period. Two tasks will be conducted that measure attentional bias and interpretation bias respectively. Both tasks are conducted in labs at the University of Reading. The student will conduct the entire experimental procedure including gathering questionnaire data from the child’s parent, preparing the child to take part in the tasks and setting up the ‘outer-space scenario’ intended to facilitate the child’s engagement with the tasks and reduce their procedural anxiety. In addition, the student will manage the process of preparing for research sessions through communication with participants, including administering the screening questionnaires, organisation of materials for research sessions and managing lab bookings. They will also be involved in the organisation and storage of data as well as the preparation of data for analysis. The student will work closely with a PhD student (Suzannah Ravenscroft) who will always be available for support during data collection as working with young child often requires two researchers. They will also meet regularly and receive mentoring and support from Dr Helen Dodd, as well as the rest of the research team detailed below. The placement will be very varied, with the majority of time taken up by preparation for data collection and running the research sessions. Across the course of the week it is expected that on average 60% of the time will be spent conducting research session, 20% of the time will be spent on communicating with participants, screening of potential participants and preparation for research sessions and a further 20% on data management.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The student is expected to have a background in psychology with a keen interest in developmental psychopathology. The student will need to have a current DBS clearance to work with children at the point that they commence the project (this can be arranged after selection). Prior experience of working with children is essential. No working knowledge of eye-tracking or psychophysiological measures is necessary.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

Through the placement, the student will gain specific technical skills such as how to use eye-tracking and psychophysiological equipment, as well as experience in the use of software to run experiments (eprime). The student will walk away with hands on experience in experimental techniques gaining popularity within cognitive psychology with a direct application to developmental psychology. This is complemented by transferable skills such as effective communication with children and families, organisation and planning and how to conducting research in a controlled, scientific manner.

Place of Work

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, UoR.

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 07 July 2014 - Friday 15 August 2014

How to Apply

Students should apply with a CV and covering letter detailing their interest and relevant experience for the project. Interviews will be conducted by Dr. Helen Dodd and Suzannah Ravenscroft.

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